Week 9-Digital Citizenship

When is it better not to know something?  What does it say about you when you truly believe ignorance really is bliss?  How instructive is it to know the extent of your digital tattoo?

Spinning Beach ball

This week’s assignment caused me more anxiety than any other moment in this master’s journey to date.  I did not want to know with certainty what information about me was publicly available for the clicking.  That’s because I understand the economic model that underpins the internet. Increasingly, it is becoming less about the free, democratic flow of information and more about the delivery of consumers to retailers via advertising.  And the algorithm and cookie technologies web sites use to collect my information is, for all intents and purposes, out of my control.  So I hold my nose and, like most everyone else, tick the “I accept the Terms of Use” check box then click OK.  I know I am giving my information away — with every Google search, with every opening of a map app, with every purchase I make online.  It’s frustrating because if we want to use the internet with any kind of reasonable ease, we are faced with these choiceless choices.  So in the face of such choicelessness, I didn’t want to know the precise details of what information is out there about me.

Yes, ok, if someone really wants to find me they can find me in that some of the information is public record (or I myself have volunteered).  However, it’s the ease with which the information can be found these days.  It is so much easier and potentially more likely that we will experience the social hacking of our lives by triangulating public information in order to gain access to more sensitive parts of our lives.  (This is one of the hardest identity theft concepts I keep trying to impress on my septuagenarian parents and in-laws!)  Having to live in a constant state of vigilance about such things as we now do is the digital version of low-level PTSD.

In this TED Talk, Juan Enriquez leads with physical tattoos, which made me realize one significant difference between them and the digital variety: Whether good or bad decisions, a body tattoo is a choice we make.  However, many of our digital tattoos are choices made by others that we must live with.

Nevertheless, I thought a bit about Nicole’s admonition that in an online, networked age, we need to have some searchable presence.  It offered a palliative — or at lease a beneficial trade-off.  Accepting that some of our credibility is tied not just to the nature of our digital tattoo, but to its very existence, deepens my roots as a digital resident.  I, too, am not hiding anything.  I took to heart advice I heard way back in the ’90’s:  “If you’d be embarrassed to have your grandmother read it, see it, or hear it, don’t post it.”  So, I was not worried about finding anything unseemly or compromising.  (Color me boring.  Or old.)   If someone wants to use their time rummaging through all my personal information, and spend about $30 to access all of it, have at it.  There’s nothing prurient to see if prurience is what they’re looking for.  And that feels good to know.

Easter Eggs

Still, how accurate it all was was unnerving!  Every town I’ve lived in, names of my family members, universities I’ve attended, our home purchase price and tax info, my social media profiles, all there. I found tweets of mine embedded in the blogs of complete strangers — one from the Cubs’ victory and another on the SCOTUS marriage equality decision.  I even found my Twitter and Instagram accounts listed among the “most active” on a blog tracking the MLB playoffs.  Who knew??  But the discovery traveling the farthest from out of nowhere was a June 2014 church newsletter.  Apparently, my mother put my name in for the month’s birthday prayers and it got posted on the church web site which no one knew anything about until this week.  Talk about having no way of knowing how and from where your information will show up online!

 

 

Other surprises included differing search results depending on the search engine and browser used.  Finding different results between search engines was less surprising, given differences in algorithms. However, I did not expect the differences between browsers.  I’m curious about why that would be.

Ones & Zeroes

The internet and social media are platforms, facilitators, amplifiers.  Like everything humans create, they are extensions of us — our good, our bad and our in between.  Sadly, many choose to use social media to amplify the basest elements of human nature.  But I believe as Nicole does that “the internet can do amazing things.  It’s not all negative.”  I love the idea that “your online presence gives you a great opportunity to use social media for good.”  As well the idea of using it for creative purposes, making online “interest portfolios” to use as models for professional use and CV’s.  But I’d like to soapbox a minute against the idea of our digital tattoos as “personal brands”.  I have to admit to wanting to scream every time I hear this term or am queried about my own.  “Personal brands” represents the commodification, the marketing of individuals.  This trend may result from a downside of social media, perhaps because they too are blends of written or aural text and visual images — the very elements upon which branding relies.  But companies have brands.  Services have brands.  Products have brands.  Cattle have brands.  Which is fine for huge entities that need to be recognized quickly, compressing concepts and information into a single graphic or seconds on radio or TV.

But I resist what to me comes off as the hipster social media-driven fad and pretentiousness of “personal brands”.  People have reputations, interests, integrity.  And for people, that is what their digital tattoo represents.   Never Seconds and @thebenevolentone3 are not Payne’s and Konner Suave’s brands.  They are extensions of their curiosity, their empathy for and kindness towards others.  Which now, thanks to the astonishing power of social media, nearly every human on the planet can witness.   These digital platforms are perfectly suited to explain, demonstrate, exhibit, connect the incredible complexities that make up us human beings.  And in so doing, make people and society better for it.  So why in the world would we ever settle for reducing people like Martha and Konnor to the something as crass as a brand?  [Climbs down off soapbox.]

Launchpad?

Whether, what, and how this information should be taught to students obviously depends on the age of the students and the complexities and goals of what is being taught.  What if we thought about it like we do sex ed (where schools or parents still teach sex ed!)?  Usually, the basics are taught before puberty.  Then instruction becomes more nuanced as children mature through middle and high school.  When it comes to digital tattoos, parents and computer teachers should both be involved.  However, as much as I believe most of this instruction should be coming from home, at this moment in history, I doubt most parents have the depth of knowledge themselves to do it effectively.

As for when we should start, I would say just prior to the age where their getting their own devices or accounts.  Perhaps elementary teachers start with demonstrating the kinds of information that can be found online through activities with Fakebook & Twister .  Students could examine examples and non-examples from which they discuss possible consequences for each.  Adolescents, though, can conduct  limited searches guided by their teachers.   However, regardless of who teaches about digital tattoos and when, just dis-covering of what information can be found online is not enough.  Parents and teachers both need to press kids to answer, “So what?  Why is this important to know?”  That’s where the understanding and consequences lie.

Shutting Down…

In the end, I’d say it was beneficial to push through the anxiety.  I have a sense of the size and shape of my digital tattoo.  Maybe someday I’ll pay that $30 on Spokeo to unlock my full profile.  In the meantime, it’s good to know that I’ve made wise choices about my own postings.  It feels good to know that in a very limited way I’ve contributed some thoughtful, creative elements to the internet and social media.  And I’ve made good choices when it comes to friends since I didn’t find myself compromised by any of their social media choices either.  Am I as blissful now as I was when I woke up Monday given my loss of ignorance?  Let’s call it a break-even.

 

New Tabs:
"'Right to Be Forgotten' Online Could Spread" (New York Times) - In an effort to counter some of the possible stigma from digital tattoos, the EU defined the "right to be forgotten".

Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives by David Eagleman- A wonderful book that imagines 40 different possibilities for the afterlife through 2-page vignettes. Several are a bit cyberpunkesque.  These two excerpts have haunted me for the exact reasons we're considering this week.

Week 8-Social Media in Education

Since the rubber meets the road with instruction, I continued with a focus on teachers and social media.  A number of the readings were interesting and provocative, such as Vicki Davis’s blog post which concludes with

"If you're going to ignore social media in the classroom, then throw out the ISTE Standards for Students and stop pretending that you're 21st century. Stop pretending that you're helping low-income children overcome the digital divide if you aren't going to teach them how to communicate online.  Social media is here. It's just another resource and doesn't have to be a distraction from learning objectives. Social media is another tool that you can use to make your classroom more engaging, relevant and culturally diverse."

As an educator whose career has been spent exclusively in the service of poor, black and brown, urban youth, the “If you’re going to ignore…then stop pretending…” formulation is quite satisfying and I want to give it a shoutout.  However, the main text for this week I’ll discuss…

 Howard Rheingold’s  “Attention, and Other 21st Century Social Media Literacies”

Rheingold’s thesis is that skills alone are insufficient for successfully navigating social media.  Social media literacy is needed beyond skill knowledge.  He then identifies five interwoven literacies: Attention, participation, collaboration, network awareness & critical consumption.

A SUMMARY OF RHEINGOLD’S SOCIAL MEDIA LITERACIES:
  • Attention is “the fundamental building block for how individuals think…create tools…teach each other how to use them…how groups socialize, and…transform civilization.”  Rheingold then delineates different kinds of attention human beings deploy in particular circumstances and their applicability to digital and social media.
  • Participation online “gives one a different sense of being in the world….[Y]ou become an active citizen rather than simply a passive consumer of what is sold to you…taught to you…what you’re government wants you to believe.”  The powerful devices we all now carry in our pockets give us the ability to affect societal change in easier and faster ways than ever before.
  • Collaboration takes place “[u]sing the technologies and techniques of attention and participation…allow[ing] people to work together collaboratively in ways that were too difficult or expensive to attempt before the advent of social media.”  This is a particularly good articulation of how these literacies comprise an interwoven continuum as opposed to 5 discrete elements.  Rheingold continues, illustrating social media collaboration through various examples of crowdsourcing ranging from searching for missing persons at sea to citizen responses to natural disasters to charity fundraising.
  • Network Awareness is a bit more esoteric.  Noting that the 19th century saw the industrialized society and the 20th century, the information society, Rheingold suggests the 21st century is seeing the rise of the networked society.  “In the past there were physical limitations on which people and how many people we could include in our network…. Now, technological networks…have vastly expanded the number and the variety of people we can contact.”  Here he also suggests that deep network awareness also requires participants to understand how networks can influence “how much freedom, wealth, and participation you will have in the rest of this century”, drawing attention to the current debates on net neutrality.
  • Critical Consumption is, as Rheingold reminds us, what Hemingway called “crap detection”.  In essence, it is now up to the reader to vet whether or not a media source is trustworthy.  As he notes, “[t]he authority of the text that goes back at least a thousand years has been overturned.”  Prior to the digital era we could rely on a whole series of steps and checkpoints traditional publishing provided for fact-checking and accuracy of information.  But now, the democratic nature of digital media means any yahoo with a device can publish.  Thus, all responsible citizens also have to possess the skills of a critic if they wish to be informed.  Critical consumption, then, brings us full circle, back to attention as we need to use our crap detection to determine exactly what is and isn’t worthy of our time, energy, and focus.
Illustration of Reed’s Law;   Source: Michael K. Bergman, AI^3

 

Rheingold slides the following point into critical consumption but is worth highlighting separately.  He notes that social media is a flow, not a queue.  Email is a queue.  With email, messages arrive one at a time into our mailbox in chronological order where we deal with each message in some way — answer, ignore, delete, schedule, file.  Whereas, social media is a constant and overwhelming flow of information that we can never ever entirely apprehend.  Therefore, we have to choose what we will pay attention to, when, and how.  This is a helpful way to conceptualize the cacophony of social media and suggests a way to engage it.  It gives permission to let go of all the messages that get by us no matter how we struggle to keep up.  (For those of us who feel compelled to respond to everything that comes through our feed(s), this is no small reprieve!)  In addition, this distinction between managing items in a queue versus an endless flow of information accentuates the idea that social media participation requires conceptual, literacy-based understanding and not just skill knowledge.

Defining as “Literacy” Raises the Stakes

Shifting the conversation from one of skills acquisition to literacy raises the stakes for educators.  Prior to starting this master’s program,  my thinking about the role of digital media in education could be described as more subconscious, intuitive.  However, in the last 20 weeks, my thoughts have become more clearly conscious.  One articulation of that emergent thinking, as I noted in last week’s post, is that the internet and mobile technology are no longer curiosities or places where we dally in cyberspace.  They are as crucial to our daily functioning as the telephone, radio, television, and the automobile became in the last century.   The digital realm is, arguably, even more profound than those previous technologies in that it constitutes spaces for the conduct of nearly all kinds of human transactions — commercial, professional, artistic, personal — while at the same time breaking the limits of time and space.  Clearly, social media are now extensions of our actual social lives as well.  So in this sense, my thinking has evolved in that I believe parents and schools have a obligation to teach children what constitutes safe and responsible behaviors online just as much as they do what’s appropriate in the “real” world.

Changes in My Thinking

Rheingold’s article has helped crystalize my thinking.  Given the power and place of digital media in our lives, we need to teach their navigation as conceptual literacies and not merely skills.  This makes sense, too, given the vast and ever-changing complexities that make up the digital realm.  People will only be able to navigate as digital residents when they are fluent in the hows and whys of digital world and can transfer skills to new digital contexts as they are likely to emerge.

Further reading:
Washington's new digital citizenship legislation sets nationwide precedent

How Memes Harken Back to Pre-Internet Times -- It's a bit tangential, though it highlights the complexity and literacy required to understand something as "simple" as a meme.
Wrapping Up

In his conclusion, Rheingold notes that social media and their accompanying literacies will “shape the cognitive, social, and cultural environments of the 21st century” just as the printing press, books and their literacies shaped the Enlightenment.  If  this turns out to be the case, and it looks very likely that it will be, then we as educators have responsibilities here.  We can’t bury our heads in the sand ignoring and pretending, as Vicki Davis passionately called out.

We like to say the world is changing.  But more often than not, by the time we make such a statement the world has already changed.  And so it goes with social media.  As a profession, education is behind the curve.  There is quite a bit of catch-up we have to do when it comes to ICT instruction in general and social media in particular.  Rheingold’s formulation of the 5 social media literacies implies the stakes are higher than we thought.  It is incumbent upon us to learn these literacies at least well enough to teach them to our students.  After all, we are the ones charged with projecting them into the future — a future none of us can see — armed with the tools and understandings they (and our democracy) will need to survive through this century.

 

 

Week 6: Critical Thinking & Information Literacy

Source: Digital Citizenship for 6th Grade Students
The Digital Literacy Adventure

Digital literacy is the adventure I chose for this week because it is the near universal substrate of all the other kinds of media and communication in the Information Age.  Not to mention, the nature of digital communication means that the lines between message and medium can be blurred far more easily than in the analog world, which has significant implications for teaching and learning all the other literacies outlined for the week  — information, news, media, and critical thinking.

Definitions

The most succinct definition of digital literacy I found is from  Purposeful Technology-Constructing Meaning in 21st Century Schools and is defined as “the capability to use digital technology and knowing when and how to use it.”  Yet in light of the other rather troubling readings on the topic, the expanded aspects of digital literacy are vital.  Specifically, the authors note that digital literacy includes “when students are able to engage with multi-media to read and interpret text, sounds and images…when students can  manipulate and evaluate data to construct their own meaning…having knowledge about  how to use technology to construct meaning…in ways that are appropriate to their needseffectively and appropriately to communicate a message.”  The emphases are added and align to some specifics of digital literacy instruction the inclusion of which, I believe, needs to be mandatory in any district curriculum.  Common Sense Media also notes that digital literacy is an aspect of media literacy and that both fall under the broader umbrella of information literacy.  Common Sense specifically designates media from the internet, smartphones, video games, and “other nontraditional sources” as within the realm of digital literacy.  (By the way, Common Sense has many useful resources.  It’s worth exploring from the link above.)

2 Framing Anecdotes

Part of the work I do as a consultant is leadership and instructional coaching through the University of Chicago’s Network For College Success.  We work with Network high schools to implement professional learning rounds that facilitate instructional improvement in a targeted instructional area.  The method for teaching the targeted instructional area is a research-based powerful instructional practice.  One of the powerful practices we support is Reading for Understanding: How Reading Apprenticeship Improves Disciplinary Learning in Secondary and College Classrooms, also know more simply as Reading Apprenticeship or RA.  The RA model operates from the belief that all teachers are literacy teachers.  Not reading teachers, but literacy teachers.  It also proceeds from the notion that different disciplines require different literacy skills specific to that discipline.  This makes a world of sense when one considers that the way one reads a novel is very different from reading a science text, which is different from reading a social studies text, is different from reading a math text, is different still from reading an art text.  Each of these content area teachers is the expert in how to read these specialized texts.  Therefore, all teachers have a responsibility to teach the reading, writing, and thinking skills necessary for the text types of their particular disciplines.  So the RA framework is the schema that activated when I read the framing questions for this week’s assignment, “Who is responsible for teaching information literacy?”

Baby’s & Screens                   Photo: Pintrest

When I read the second framing question, “When should it be introduced?” I was reminded of a time when I was at a friend’s home.  We were sitting on the living room sofa, talking.  At some point we realized that his 3 year-old daughter was standing in front of the flat panel TV which was off at the time.  From the corner of my eye I half noticed that she was alternately waving at the television and turning to us, waving at the television and turning to us.  When it registered that she was actually talking to us, we turned our full attention to her.  She was saying, “Broke!  Broke!”  What was happening was that she was swiping the TV screen.  When it did not turn on after several attempts, she turned to us to demonstrate that the TV was broken because that big flat screen didn’t wake up when she moved her hand across it!  My friend and I were blown away by the implications of this moment.  Indeed “[s]tudents learn technology just like they do the spoken language, by doing and today it is not uncommon for a 3 year old to have some basic knowledge regarding how to get on to the computer and load a game” (Purposeful Technology).

Teach Digital Literacy and to Whom?
Digital Literacy Model
Source: MediaSmarts: Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy

Thus, based on my own literacy coaching, the incident with my friend’s daughter, and the readings for this week, my answer to these questions would be “All teachers are responsible for teaching digital literacy to all students and it should start as soon as they enter school!”

Wrestling With the Texts

Mike Caulfield‘s “Yes, Digital Literacy. But Which One?” borders on screed; however, his take on the literacy situation is spot on and aligns with the research-based method of RA.  “One of the problems…with traditional digital literacy programs is that they tend to see digital literacy as a separable skill from domain knowledge….  In reality, most literacies are heavily domain-dependent, and based not on skills, but on a body of knowledge that comes from mindful immersion in a context.”  Caulfield then demonstrates in short order how inadequate tools like RADCAB and CRAAP are to the task of developing a reader’s ability to accurately and reliably evaluate digital media.

CRAAP Click here to take the CRAAP Test! Source: SCAD Libraries

 

The RADCAB literacy sifter; Source: radcab.com

Caulfield’s larger argument also puts me in mind of a subject we studied in LSE500.  Namely

Does it make sense to teach about Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper (1498) orally?  Neither should all digital literacy instruction be at the upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

that educators have for years misunderstood the notion of learning style.  Our brains make meaning through all our senses.  While research indicates that every learner has a preferred learning mode, it is inaccurate to say that that mode is the “best” way for them to learn all material.  The most effective way for any learner to make meaning is to experience the content in the learning mode best suited for the content not the learner.   In fact, what teachers need to consider is the learning mode best suited for the particular content.  For instance, it makes no sense in an art history class to differentiate lessons for aural learners that privilege verbal interactions over the visual when studying the complex imagery of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.  Painting is a visual medium and thus is best taught visually.  Since the human brain makes meaning from visual inputs, it is a more efficient and effective way to teach about The Last Supper, even for learners who prefer an aural approach.

Caulfield takes the same approach to Bloom’s Taxonomy and digital literacy.  Yes, in a democratic society citizens need to be critical thinkers.  But all content does not need to be processed at that high a level.  At specific stages of the learning process, some content is most effectively taught at the remembering and understanding levels of the taxonomy.  Remember it.  Understand it.  Apply it.  Move on.  Caulfield effectively argues that digital literacy instruction is in need of this approach.  Do digital citizens need to know how to analyze and evaluate the reliability of a source?  Of course.  And students should have opportunities to practice critical thinking throughout their educational career.  However, in the early stages of developing one’s digital literacy instruction, or with particular kinds of literacy content, basic knowledge is what’s needed first.  For example, it’s important that a digital citizen know that images and videos can be presented out of their original contexts and paired with other information to mislead a reader.  Or that when reading a tweet one must actually click on an embedded link to get to the detailed information the tweet is sharing.  Or that one may have to take a few more steps to do additional, deeper searches to vet the context of a piece of information.  Only after someone knows these basics can that they apply them in more complex and critically thoughtful ways.

Evaluating Information:  The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning is a Stanford study that clearly illustrates how teaching digital literacy exclusively from the top of Bloom’s is failing our students and our society.  The study assessed “civic online reasoning” by collecting and analyzing 7,804 response from students of varied ages and socio-economic backgrounds ranging from inner-city Los Angeles to suburban Minneapolis to Stanford University to public state universities.   Disturbingly, their findings echo Caulfield’s concerns.

"...[T]o a stunning and dismaying consistency...[o]verall, young people's ability to reason about the information in the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak....  [W]hen it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped....  [I]n every case and at every level we were taken aback by students' lack of preparation."

 

This statement and the examples of student work collected for the study are indeed “stunning and dismaying” in their implications.  Yet in light of the the 2016 election, it can’t be a surprise.  I spent much of November with colleagues wrestling with what they felt were our profession’s responsibility for the election outcome.  “If only we had taught media literacy better.”  “We need to teach kids how to be more critical of what they read online.”  “Schools have got to get their hands around fake news and teach our students how to tell it from the real thing.”  These are all paraphrases of statements I heard teachers and administrators saying on November 9th.  As much as I don’t want one more societal ill to be laid at the feet of our profession, I have to say, on several levels I had a hard time disputing their analysis.

Beware the Usual Professional Pitfalls

That said, we will not be served by once again looking for a curricular silver bullet, an instructional quick fix for the paucity of digital literacy in k-12 and collegiate learning.  It’s going to be a generational effort.  And as we get this ball rolling, our profession would be well-served keeping three things in mind to remain positive.  “First and foremost — encourage, request, even demand that teachers in your school district get  EXTENSIVE (not just one workshop) training in the use of technology in the classroom and Digital Citizenship! Teachers are the front line of content delivery, but if teachers are not comfortable and confident with the use of technology, then they will not incorporate its use into their classrooms” (Purposeful Technology).  Second, as Bryan Alexander said in the Teaching and Higher Ed podcast, “There’s a lot of churn.  But …overall we were right.  We hit on the web as a major feature of literacy and learning.  And that’s a good thing.  We didn’t identify a horrible monster.  We identified a really powerful platform for human expression and connection, with flaws, with problems.  But that’s a major stride forward for the human race.”  And finally, as Alexander continued, “Teachers are hired to be experts and we can’t be expert in everything online.  Therefore they have an extra layer of anxiety to participate in the social world of the web and they’re not the expert.  They’re average users.  And that is very hard and threatening.  That’s why teachers have had a hard time using the web for teaching and learning.”  Yet we have to push through that anxiety and not only take our place in the digital world, but also guide the younger generations to their own critical and constructively participatory place in it as well.  And as we do, let’s keep in mind “There’s too much to master.  No one can master it all.” So “grab one particular corner of it [like Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, etc.] and get comfy with it.”  

Conclusion

The internet and the digital domain ceased being curiosities and merely interesting diversions decades ago.  As the cartoon at the top of the post illustrates, concepts of traditional citizenship and digital citizenship are utterly intertwined.  Thus, being a good civic citizen requires one being a good digital citizen also.  Both, therefore, require a sophisticated level of digital literacy where the literate person uses technology to interact with the world in a responsible way (Purposeful Technology).  Given the ubiquity of digital technology globally and the very real and tangible impact the digital world has on the actual world, concepts of digital citizenship cannot be any less important than those of traditional civic citizenship.   Literacy is a crucial component of citizenship — in both the real world and in the digital world.

The authors of Evaluating Information conclude the study’s executive summary with a quote from philosopher Michael Lynch:

"[T]he Internet is 'both the world's best fact-checker and the world's best bias confirmer -- often at the same time.'  Never have we had so much information at our fingertips.  Whether this bounty will make us smarter and better informed or more ignorant and narrow-minded will depend on our awareness of this problem and our educational response to it.  At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish."

 

Indeed, given what’s at stake, if ever there was a clarion call for embedding and infusing digital literacy throughout our curriculum, this is it.


A Coincidental Post Script

Throughout my academic career I have been the lucky beneficiary of strange coincidences connected to my research.  This started all the way back in 8th grade with the dreaded annual science fair dog & pony show project.  Randomly, I had selected “nuclear power” for my project.  One week before the project was due for class and two weeks before the fair, the Three Mile Island accident occurred (and which just 12 days after the release of The China Syndrome!)  So I shouldn’t have been surprised to wake up this morning and open my New York Times to find the above-the-fold-top-right headline, HACKERS USE TOOL TAKEN FROM N.S.A. IN GLOBAL ATTACK.  What an opportunity to talk about digital citizenship, literacy, and safety with our students (and our septua- and octogenarian parents for whom some of us are the 24/7 support desk!)